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Harris v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

October 23, 2017


          James L. Graham Judge.



         Plaintiff, Ruie Ellen Harris, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. This matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation on Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (ECF No. 11), the Commissioner's Memorandum in Opposition (ECF No. 16), Plaintiff's Reply (ECF No. 17), and the administrative record (ECF No. 10). For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that the Court OVERRULE the Plaintiff's Statement of Errors and AFFIRM the Commissioner of Social Security's non-disability finding.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff protectively filed her application for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits, and Supplemental Security Income on October 11, 2013, alleging that she had been disabled since April 3, 2012. An administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on November 6, 2015, at which Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. Kathleen M. Doehla, a vocational expert, also testified. On November 19, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff suffered from two severe impairments: schizoaffective disorder depressive type and post-traumatic stress disorder. (ECF No. 10, PAGEID # 65). The ALJ found, however, that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (ECF No. 10, PAGEID # 70). On December 14, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and adopted the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff then timely commenced this action.

         In her Statement of Errors, Plaintiff raises two arguments: (1) the ALJ failed to include all of the relevant concentration, persistence, and pace limitations and all of the relevant social limitations in his Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) determination or to explain the omission of certain limitations and (2) the ALJ failed to adequately consider the opinion of Dr. Denise Kohler, a consultative examiner from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Plaintiff argues that the RFC does not appropriately account for her concentration, persistence, and pace limitations and that it mischaracterizes her social limitations. With respect to Dr. Kohler's opinion, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ rejected some of the most severe limitations supported by Dr. Kohler without correctly evaluating and examining them.

         In her memorandum in opposition, the Commissioner asserts that the ALJ incorporated the substance of the concentration, persistence, and pace limitations, as well as, the social limitations that are the basis for the Plaintiff's first statement of error and that any minor difference in the wording of those limitations is inconsequential. The Commissioner also asserts that the ALJ appropriately evaluated Dr. Kohler's opinion in light of improvements in Plaintiff's impairments from the time of Dr. Kohler's examination to the date of the hearing. The Commissioner argues, therefore, that the record as a whole supports the ALJ's assessment of Plaintiffs RFC.


         Plaintiffs first statement of error relates to the following portion of the ALJ's RFC determination: “work is limited to simple routine and repetitive tasks in a work environment free of fast paced production requirements involving only simple work related decisions with few, if any, work place changes, only brief and superficial interaction with public, only occasional interaction with co-workers, no tandem tasks, only occasional interaction with supervisors.” (ECF No. 10, PAGEID # 66). The ALJ relied upon the opinion of Dr. Kevin Edwards, a consultative examiner, and consulting State-agency psychologists in making the RFC determination. Dr. Edwards opined that Plaintiff suffered the following limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace:

• Mild difficulty with new learning, understanding, remembering and carrying out instructions;
• Moderate impairments in her ability to maintain attention and concentration; persistence and pace to perform simple and multi-stepped tasks; and
• MDD and PTSD would interfere with persistence and pace.

(ECF No. 10, PAGEID # 384). Dr. Edwards also opined, with respect to social limitations, that Plaintiff “likely would have an unfavorable response in groups.” (Id.). The State-agency psychologists concluded that Plaintiff was “capable of simple, repetitive tasks in a setting that does not require working in tandem w/other employees or fast-pace or filling large quotas” and “limited to [occasional] superficial social interactions in a less public setting.” (ECF No. 10, PAGE ID # 133).

         Plaintiffs second statement of error relates to the ALJ's failure to properly evaluate and credit the opinion of Dr. Denise Kohler, who examined Plaintiff in May 2014 and determined that Plaintiff suffered from a number of marked limitations:

• The ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods;
• The ability to perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances;
• The ability to sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision;
• The ability to work in coordination with or proximity to others without being distracted by them;
• The ability to complete normal a workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an ...

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